“Premiere week” is well underway; it’s that time of year when the new television season begins and shows return to answer the questions left behind in last May’s cliffhangers. Here’s a list of the 20 longest-running television shows on the broadcast networks.
Years ago, when a new television show premiered, it was given time — sometimes more than it deserved — to evolve and grow an audience. Back in the days in which there were only three or four channels to choose from, a show could run for half a season or more, even with somewhat lousy ratings, but still have a chance to return the following season.
All in the Family is a perfect example: CBS was reportedly so nervous about the adult topics this satirical sitcom planned to tackle that it added a disclaimer to the beginning of the first few episodes and buried the show in its schedule, hoping it’d do well, but fearing a backlash. But it went along fairly quietly, eclipsed by the competition until summer reruns came along: that’s when viewers who’d been watching their favorite shows on the competing channels while All in the Family was airing its first few shows, found the program and became hooked.
That was then.
Nowadays, shows can disappear after a single episode if the ratings aren’t good enough. The higher cost of producing a television series these days combines with the higher level of competition channels face, and the result is that TV executives can’t afford to give a show a full season to “find itself” anymore.
The All in the Family story makes one wonder how many other gems never had the chance to become classics.
The good news, however, is that there are plenty of shows that have stood the test of time. With the help of Wikipedia, and a little math, I found a list of the 20 longest-running network TV shows.
In narrowing it to the broadcast networks, I am naturally disqualifying some syndicated shows and programs that were once on the big networks but have since relocated to cable, or cable shows that have made the jump to the networks. This would include programs like ESPN’s Sportcenter, which has also run on ABC and is credited as having produced the most episodes of any show in history; the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, a syndicated hit for more than four decades and that just became an ABC network program this year; and the longest-running syndicated program still in production, Music and the Spoken Word, which has spent its entire life in syndication since its TV premiere in October of 1949.
So here’s the list of the shows celebrating the most longevity on broadcast television:
1. Meet the Press (NBC)
It’s probably no surprise that this public affairs program is the longest-running. It made its debut on November 6, 1947, and is now in its 67th season on the air.
2. NBC Nightly News (NBC)
The current program actually made its premiere in 1970, when the iconic anchorman Chet Huntley, half of the number one-rated Huntley-Brinkley Report decided to retire. The newscast was then renamed NBC Nightly News. NBC’s first nightly newscast was in the form of NBC Television Newsreel, which premiered in February of 1948. Shortly after that, a cigarette maker became the sponsor and the title was changed to the Camel News Caravan with John Cameron Swayze. Huntley replaced Swayze in 1956.
3. CBS Evening News (CBS)
If you count CBS Television News, later changed to Douglas Edwards with the News as part of the CBS Evening News’ run, just as we count NBC Television Newsreel as part of the NBC Nightly News timeline, CBS’s nightly newscast is the second-longest running, having premiered on May 3, 1948. If you eliminate the late Edwards’ work from the count, it still makes the list, because the current program as we know it today made its premiere just a few months before President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963; counting the full run, it’s in its 66th season, and counting only Cronkite’s run starting in September of 1963, it would be in its 51st.
4. Hallmark Hall of Fame (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS)
Here’s one of those shows that really made the rounds, spending time on all four of the major broadcast networks during its 62+ year run, it’s now an ABC production. This is the longest-running prime time television series, though it generally only airs one or two shows per season.
5. Today (NBC)
Network television’s longest running morning program premiered in the middle of the 1951-1952 television season with Dave Garroway as its moderator. Now in its 63rd season, it sports a growing cast and runs several hours per day in some markets. Interestingly enough, the network news program that eclipsed Today as #1, Good Morning America on ABC, would fall in 21st place on this list.
6. ABC World News (ABC)
John Charles Daly and the News was ABC’s first foray into the news business, making its debut in 1953. It has had various titles and anchors over the years, with Diane Sawyer now at the helm.
7. The Tonight Show (NBC)
When you consider that this show is now in its 60th season, it’s amazing how few hosts it has had. Steve Allen was the show’s first host, from 1954 until 1957. Jack Paar took over and stayed with the show until 1962, when Johnny Carson took the job. He retired 30 years later, followed by Jay Leno, then Conan O’Brien, then, infamously, by Jay Leno again. Jimmy Fallon will take over in February of 2014.
8. Face the Nation (CBS)
CBS’s answer to Meet the Press is now in its 60th season as well, moderated by Bob Shieffer, who has served in that capacity since 1991.
9. The NFL on CBS (CBS)
CBS’s weekly coverage of the NFL’s American Football Conference has been running since 1956, which means it is now in its 58th season on the air.
10. General Hospital (ABC)
When CBS’s Guiding Light and As the World Turns left the air, General Hospital became the longest-running soap on the air. Premiering on April Fools’ Day, 1963, it is now in its 52nd season. (April is obviously late in the television season, but I’m still counting it as having premiered in the 1962-63 season.)
11. Days of Our Lives (NBC)
“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives,” has been heard since November of 1965, which places Days of Our Lives in its 49th season. ‘Days’ is now the second-longest running soap on broadcast television, and one of only four of them left. For the past few years, it has been rumored to have been on the chopping block, but yet has managed to survive.
12. Washington Week (PBS)
Formerly Washington Week in Review, this public affairs program on PBS is now in its 48th season, and is currently moderated by Gwen Ifill.
13. 60 Minutes (CBS)
Don Hewitt’s idea for a television news magazine wasn’t the instant hit some assume it must have been. It struggled with mediocre ratings for several seasons until it found its way, and its hard-hitting investigations and “ambush interviews” suddenly began making people take notice. Still regarded as some of the best journalism on television, it is often in the Nielsen top 10 ratings each week and is now in its 46th season.
14. Sesame Street (PBS)
Sesame Street made its debut the same year I did. The last time I was flipping through the channels, I caught a glimpse of it, and to be honest, I’m glad I was born when I was: it’s not the same show. (And I’ve lost count of how many parents grew up with the show who say the same thing!) Then again, it’s reaching children with shorter attention spans, so it’s not surprising that it moves a lot faster than what we were used to way back when. Sesame Street is now in its 45th season.
15. Masterpiece (PBS)
You wouldn’t assume that America’s longest-running drama series was on PBS, but this is it. You probably know it as Masterpiece Theater, but at some point along the way, it dropped Theater from the official title.
16. The Price is Right (CBS)
Contestants were first told to “come on down” on September 4, 1972, in an exciting, colorful remake of the original version hosted by Bill Cullen on NBC and ABC in the 1950s and 1960s. Bob Barker hosted the show for its first 35 years, and Drew Carey is now carrying it into its 42nd season.
17. Great Performances (PBS)
Also in its 42nd season, Great Performances is the longest running performing arts anthology on television, offering everything from opera, ballet, plays and concerts, along with documentaries added to the mix.
18. The Young and the Restless (CBS)
Television’s number one soap is now in its 41st season, making it the third of only four soaps on the air to make this list. Y&R’s sister soap, The Bold and the Beautiful is a mere youngster and comes nowhere near the longevity needed to make the top 20 oldest programs. The fictional town of Genoa City, Wisconsin just suffered a major blow (along with the actors whose characters populate it: daytime icon Jeanne Cooper, who played Katherine Chancellor since the show’s first year, died back in May and her death has recently been worked into the storyline.
19. NOVA (PBS)
The popular science series originates at PBS powerhouse WGBH in Boston, and is now in its 41st season.
20. The Victory Garden (PBS)
The “youngest” program to make the list premiered in April, 1975, which means it’s now in its 40th season. The show, interestingly enough, was sparked by the energy crisis of the 1970s, which led to people taking a greater interest in gardening as a way to lower grocery bills.